Ashanti Riley’s violent death has cast a pall over the final days of local observances of 16 days of activism against gender-based violence.
The postmortem on the battered body of the San Juan teen has provided details of her brutal end—strangled with a belt, beaten then stabbed multiple times—that add to the grief and anger expressed by many ever since her remains were found in a Santa Cruz river.
With the Riley family, this nation mourns the brutal and untimely death of yet another young woman, a tragedy amplified by the fact that it occurred at a time of deeper reflection and analysis on gender-based violence.
T&T’s response to the global call for 16 days of activism from November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, to December 10, Human Rights Day, has been overshadowed by the horrific crime that claimed Ashanti’s life.
But this nation has been in this place before. It was at around this time four years ago that T&T was also reeling from the shocking circumstances in which Shannon Banfield’s badly decomposed body was found on the third floor of the IAM Variety Store in downtown Port-of-Spain. The 20-year-old bank clerk was last seen entering the store four days earlier.
In recent memory, there hasn’t been a year that has gone by without numerous brutal attacks against women and girls, often ending in death. However, there had been an expectation that this year, even under the shadow of COVID-19, would have been a turning point.
But while this has turned out to be an unprecedented year with some progress, including the launch of a special unit within the T&T Police Service and passage of tougher domestic violence laws, there have also been major setbacks.
There was no safe place for Ashanti, not even in the community where she lived, and her name has now been added to a long list of young women who have fallen prey to the depraved predators at large in this society.
T&T continues to fall well short in protecting its woman and girls. A 2018 report by ECLAC showed that in T&T, there were 3.4 femicides per 100,000 women. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the rate has declined significantly since that study was done.
This is as good a time as any, on Human Rights Day, for this country’s legislators and policymakers to take another look at the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, signed in 1993, which defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”
Ashanti’s death serves up another sobering reminder that as a nation, we are well short of the UN goal of eradicating gender-based violence.
It is time to look deeper within, to identify and address the societal conditions that keep T&T in this very dark place.